Asking students to plan a terrorist attack against their own university is…a sensitive assignment. But that’s what Chaim Kaufmann, professor of international relations at Lehigh University, is asking his students to do this week.
Kaufmann, whose research focuses on international security, ethnic and communal conflict, nuclear weapons proliferation, and U.S. foreign policy, will complete a version of his International Terrorism class called "Is Bin Laden Really Dead?" with an unusual project that he says is valuable because “the knowledge that students gain from putting themselves in their antagonists' shoes is worth it.”
This week, Kaufmann's students will plan a mock terrorist attack, using Lehigh University as the faux target.
Class members are asked to design a low cost, practical attack. Along the way they learn why it would be hard to recreate 9-11, why so few attacks since 9-11 have worked, how global police and intelligence cooperation have changed the playing field, how getting into the United States is trickier than ever, how low your profile as a terrorist must be, as well as the barriers to many types of attacks.
The basic lessons he is trying to teach with this exercise are better understandings of why terrorism happens, what can be done to prevent attacks and, realistically, what threats we should take seriously and which we shouldn’t worry about. Also important is a better understanding of the grievances, strategies, and capabilities of terror organizations.
For added insight, students run the project twice. Once as a suicide attack. Once without.
Most important, there is no danger in such an exercise. There is nothing covered, nor discussed, that hasn’t already been seen in the pages of the Washington Post. While the final project focuses on planning an attack, the course covers six centuries of international relations and puts terrorism and other political violence into that perspective. Students cover everything from the logics of coercion and deterrence to social, political, economic, and religious grievances, techniques of political mobilization, the role of women in militant violence, and how each of these have been revolutionized--or sometimes left unaltered--by technological, economic, and political change, as well as the reasons for the rise, decline, and collapse of the original al-Qa'ida, and why similarly inspired movements continue despite the disappearance of the original.